Antarctica Week Four: Summertime and the Weather is Fine

Antarctic Poles
An Antarctic visitor throws boiling water into the air to create a frozen ice cloud. The colder it gets, the more spectacular the flash-freezing. Photo: Eric Larsen/ALE

Week four brought beautiful weather for those heading to the South Pole, but the calm winds have Geoff Wilson stuck in the doldrums on his way to the coldest point on Earth.

Longest Polar Expedition

After visiting the Lenin statue at the Point of Inaccessibility, Geoff Wilson continued pushing toward the South Pole.

Wilson’s plans have changed. Photo: Geoff Wilson

For four days he made good progress, navigating sastrugi and breaking the 2000km mark. But a fuel leak from the previous week was preying on his mind. Wilson had lost three fuel bottles because of leakage while rattling over sastrugi, and though these were redundancy supplies, this loss of his margin for error bothered him. After making food and fuel calculations, he eventually decided not to press on to the South Pole, an area known for long windless periods.

Wilson and one of his fuel containers. Photo: Geoff Wilson

Instead, he will head on toward his primary objective, Dome Argus, a 4,093m peak that has not been visited under human power. The Dome lies northeast of his position and will require some crosswind kite-skiing. So far, he has made agonizingly slow progress. On December 9, he made just 23km in seven hours –- a meagre figure with a kite. He’s hunkering down and hoping for more wind in the coming days.

Women’s Speed Record Attempts

Racing for the Pole, Wendy Searle and Jenny Davis both continue to be coy about their daily totals.

They could not have asked for better conditions. It’s warm, with very little wind and great visibility, but a firm surface. Social media posts suggest that they are both into, or approaching, their third degree of progress.

On December 10, Searle reported that she has seen a few ski tracks, but not another soul. If her speed record is on track, she should be catching up to the opening wave of solo South Pole skiers soon.

Though the weather has been great both women have been battling the sastrugi. Photo: Wendy Searle

Davis is suffering from a bit of “polar thigh,” a chafing some people get from long hours of skiing. She has also taken a couple of minor falls on the sastrugi. She has upped her daily shifts to 12 hours.

Solos to the South Pole

Everyone seems to be enjoying the weather on the way to the Pole. Additionally, sleds are getting lighter as skiers eat their way through rations and burn fuel.

Mollie Hughes has crossed 83°S and has ramped up her daily distance to around 25km per day.

Lately, Neil Hunter has had a bumpy ride. Sastrugi keep flipping the sled over and Hunter is trying to take better care picking his routes through these little minefields. Far from feeling emaciated from his exertions so far, Hunter is feeling rather chunky: “I still can’t feel my ribs, and if I were to go home right now I’d have to go shopping for sports bras!”

The sled acting up. Photo: Neil Hunter

Jacek Libucha decided that he should use the good weather to make up for lost time. He covered an impressive 62km in two days, but the push may have been too much for his Achilles tendon, which feels like it is about to snap. He has now slowed to only 24km per day and has a difficult balancing act ahead of him: Push too hard and he risks injury, go too slow and he might run out of food before the Pole.

Libucha will have to ease up and hope his body can recover. Photo: Jacek Lebucha

Anja Blacha started her journey from the true coast and is facing a tough climb up to the polar plateau. She has found her distances increasing on the ice shelf and is starting to notice a difference in the weight of her sled. Unfortunately, it may not be light enough. On December 9, she reported that her ascent was so steep that she might have to shuttle her gear forward in stages.

Guided Efforts of Note

Jing Feng, Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer have been bombing along at 30km per day and have completed over 650km from the coast towards the Pole of Inaccessibility. They are 50km from their next resupply point and doing well.

Unsurprisingly, Robert Swan and company are going a bit slower, averaging around 15km per day. They are ahead of schedule, but Swan is having some trouble with blisters and the cold.

Lucy Reynolds continues to plug away and seems in good spirits. Her team has ramped up the distances and covered 26km on December 10.

Other News

A military cargo plane disappeared this week on route to an Antarctic base from Punta Arenas. Reports now suggest that it crashed in a remote stretch of ocean off Antarctica. Thirty-eight people are missing.

Previous

Week Three: The Race is On

Week Two: Wind and Whiteouts

Week One: Off They Go

Antarctica 2019-2020: Expeditions to Watch

About the Author

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh

Based in Da Lat, Vietnam. Freelance writer travelling the world one basketball court at a time.

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